Silver Gets Warm Welcome Back from Downtown School Advocates

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver listens to the discussion at the first meeting of his School Overcrowding Task Force since his arrest in January. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 16, 2015

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was met with applause last month as he entered a conference room filled with the familiar Downtown faces of his School Overcrowding Task Force.

It was the former Assembly speaker’s first meeting with the group since his arrest in January on federal corruption charges.

“It’s certainly a pleasure to have you back here today,” said Silver, looking relaxed and smiling as he sat down at the head of a conference table in offices far more modest than the sprawling suite he had long occupied. “First, let me assure you that I hope to continue to lead this School Overcrowding Task Force and to continue the work that we have done until now and I look forward to being more productive going forward.”

At the group’s last meeting, in December, Department of Education  officials had announced no progress in its search for a site for a new 456-seat Downtown elementary school that the city funded nearly a year and a half ago.

At this gathering, Ben Goodman, a DOE official, said that the search for a site continued, to which Silver tried to sound more upbeat.

“Let me say it this way,” he told the group. “There are rumors that the search has been narrowed and there are discussions.”

The urgency was brought into sharp relief by two principals who announced kindergarten wait lists at their Down­town schools for the coming year. 

Nancy Harris, principal of the Spruce Street School, said she has 20 zoned children on a wait list, a first for her school. And at P.S. 276 in Battery Park City,  Principal Terri Ruyter said 41 children are waiting to get into the school’s kindergarten. An additional 15 children are waiting for seats for the first grade and 14 for the second grade. The wait-listed kindergartners were assigned seats at either P.S. 234 in Tribeca or the Peck Slip School.

“We were able to keep everyone in the Downtown schools who is zoned here,” said Gentian Falstrom, the DOE’s senior director of admissions for kindergarten.

Asked at the end of the meeting how it felt to be so warmly welcomed by his longtime task force, Silver told the Trib,  “I think most of the people recognize that I’ll be vindicated on this matter and I intend to continue representing them the best way I know how on the important issues Downtown, and we’re going to keep moving along.”

“Listen,” he added, “these are my friends. Everyone we’ve worked with for so many years.”

Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of Community Board 1, said there was “definitely” a lot of support in the room for the former speaker, whose power and influence have helped bring Downtown school crowding problems to the attention of education officials at the highest level.

“It’s wonderful to have someone who understands how the system works to convene all the key players in the room again,” she said. 

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